There’s no doubt some folks who wouldn’t mind seeing a licensed medicinal marijuana dispensary on virtually every street corner, or inside any and every pharmacy, once Massachusetts firms up its final implementation of the state’s new law.
At the same time, there also many people who would not want their city or town to allow placement of a marijuana dispensary or cultivation facility anywhere within its boundaries.
Neither of those options, of course, are viable — at least not now. While the medicinal marijuana law approved in last fall’s statewide referendum mandates at least one dispensary in every county, there cannot be more than five in any one — and that includes all of Essex County, from Cape Ann through Beverly and Salem, into Lawrence and up to Newburyport.
And while many residents, notably parents of teens or other middle schoolers, might be wary of having such a center placed anywhere in their community, the state Attorney General’s has already found that no community can ban the siting of a med pot facility within its municipal lines — and they shouldn’t. Amid the many lingering questions hovering over any such facilities, let’s not forget that allowing distribution of marijuana to those with valid prescriptions was given overwhelming approval by voters across the state, including in Gloucester and across Cape Ann.
To that end, the proposed Gloucester ordinance aimed at opening or closing doors to medical marijuana dispensaries in various parts of the city represents a very good start toward local regulating of any such facility. And the full City Council would do well to put approval of the new ordinance on a fast track, with a public hearing set for the council’s next meeting on Nov. 12, the Tuesday after Election Day.
The Gloucester proposal, wisely spearheaded by Councilor Greg Verga as head of the Planning and Development subcommittee, would allow such a facility within several existing zones — essentially on any property within the Marine Industrial zone, the Village Business zone, the so-called Civic Center zone, Neighborhood Business zones, or other business and industrial areas in the city. And that might send up a few red flags, most notably from anyone who might fear a medical pot dispensary opening along, say, Middle Street or Pleasant Street in the city’s cultural core.
But more noteworthy under the ordinance is a series of provisions that would protect against just such a scenario — notably, language that specifies where marijuana-related businesses cannot operate. That, as of now, includes within 1,500 feet of churches and schools, within 1,500 feet of any bars, breweries, taverns, hotels or restaurants with liquor licenses, within 500 feet of any residentially-zoned property, or, for what it’s worth, within 1,500 feet of another medical marijuana facility.
If you map out the city’s geography, that ordinance would seem to steer any medical marijuana facility to perhaps the fringes of Gloucester’s downtown, or more clearly to the city’s industrial parks off Blackburn Circle and Kondelin Road. And that may well prove an effective direction.
All of this, of course, is a work in progress — just as in Essex, where town officials are bringing that community’s proposed bylaw, rooted in the need for special permits, before voters at a Special Town on Nov. 18. And any such proposal could face challenges from potential developers, with two applicants already setting their sights on Essex.
But this measure would give Gloucester a working ordinance under which to evaluate any med or development proposal that may come forward.
As we’ve noted in the past, doing nothing — or simply calling for more time — is no longer an option. The sooner the city puts these guidelines in place, the better.